• Quote of the Day
    "Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life;
    not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens."
    Kahlil Gibran, posted by David Baxter

David Baxter

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The top 5 mental illness myths
Wed, May 2 2007

The stigma of mental illness acts as a roadblock for treatment for the more than 54 million Americans, one in 5, according to the National Institute on Mental Health, who suffer from a mental disorder in any given year. Of that number, many don't seek treatment, at a time when awareness about mental illness has grown. In recognition of Mental Health Month in May, The Menninger Clinic at the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine tackles some of the top myths about mental illness, with the facts.

Myth #1: People with mental illness are weak.
Some of the world's most powerful and influential people have struggled with mental illness. Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill battled depression. Star athletes, known for their discipline, CEOs of major corporations, doctors, lawyers and other professionals also deal with mental illness.

Making the decision to seek help for mental illness, and participating in treatment takes strength in itself.

Myth #2: Medication cures mental illness.
New medications made available over the past few decades have helped countless people manage the symptoms of their mental illness. However, taking a pill is not a cure-all for people with severe mental illness.

"Many people are looking for that magic pill, but medication is only a part of the treatment process for mental illness," says Patricia Daza, Ph.D., a staff psychologist with the Hope Program at The Menninger Clinic. "Treatment is also about behavioral changes that need to happen and also changes in family dynamics."

Individual and group therapy with a counselor or psychiatrist help patients gain greater understanding of the factors contributing to their mental illness and gives them support, Dr. Daza says.

"Medications for mental disorders don't cure the illness in the way, for example, antibiotics may cure an infection," adds Joyce Davidson, M.D., a psychiatrist with expertise in psychopharmacology and medical director of the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Program at Menninger. "Instead, they help manage the symptoms in the same way medications may help reduce symptoms in other chronic illnesses such as arthritis or diabetes. Often patients will report that the medications have 'given me a thicker skin' or 'the medication has helped take the edge off.' Psychotherapy and behavioral changes can also lessen symptoms of psychiatric illness, sometimes to the point that structural changes in the brain can be seen on brain imaging."

Myth #3: People with mental illness could just "snap out of it" if they wanted to.
Telling someone with depression or other form of mental illness to "just snap out of it," minimizes a person's struggle with mental illness.

"It would be like saying to someone with the flu, diabetes or hypertension to snap out of it," says Jon Allen, Ph.D, senior Menninger psychologist and author of the book, Coping with Depression. "I think we are having a hard time accepting that mental illnesses are real illnesses, not imagined, despite all we know about the biology and physiology of mental illness."

Technological advances and research provide increasing evidence of how mental illness affects the body. Brain imaging studies vividly show the changes that occur in the brain because of mental illness. "We now can see changes in brain function and structure at the cellular level," Dr. Allen adds. "Also, changes in the brain affect the whole body."

Myth #4: Children don't have mental illness.
Childhood is often thought of as a carefree and idyllic time, but for many children struggling with mental illness, the reality is quite different. Ten percent of children and adolescents in the United States suffer from serious emotional and mental disorders that cause significant functional impairment in their day-to-day lives at home, in school and with peers, according to a 1999 Report of the Surgeon General. In any given year, only 20 percent of children and adolescents with mental disorders are identified and receive mental health services.

These disorders may include pervasive developmental disorders, psychiatric disorders, depression, behavioral disorders, attention-deficit disorders, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders and substance abuse. Because early intervention is so important, parents shouldn't hesitate to seek treatment if they believe their child has the signs or symptoms of mental illness, say mental health experts.

Myth #5: People with mental illness don't get well.
With the right treatment, people with mental illness improve and can live normal lives. According to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, between 70 and 90 percent of individuals with mental illness have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of medication and psychological treatments and supports. Patients in treatment for certain mental illnesses, such as depression, may even experience "recovery," or stable periods of remission from their mental illness. However, patients who have the best outcomes learn to manage their condition on a continuous basis.

"People remain vulnerable to relapse," Dr. Allen says. "Sticking with treatment or getting treatment when they need it, and wellness is crucial even during the period of recovery.
 

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Myth #2: Medication cures mental illness

At first glance this statement may seem surprising as a myth, suggesting medication does not cure. However from my understanding, as the article alludes to, medications along with the correct psychotherapy, control mental illness.

The ultimate goal being to experience more good days than bad days, and as the ratio of good days to bad days increases, so does one's quality of life.

Myth #1: People with mental illness are weak.
Myth #3: People with mental illness could just "snap out of it" if they wanted to.

A comment often heard by uninformed onlookers is, what seems, based on a combination of myths 1 and 3:

What's s/he got to be depressed about?

meaning: what's s/he got to be sad about?

Of course we know the illness of depression has nothing to do with occasioanal sadness, but is profound mood disorder caused by an imbalance in brain chemistry.

Have you ever had to overcome the effects of one of these myths about mental illnes? Were you successful in changing any minds?
 

David Baxter

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At first glance this statement may seem surprising as a myth, suggesting medication does not cure. However from my understanding, as the article alludes to, medications along with the correct psychotherapy, control mental illness.

The ultimate goal being to experience more good days than bad days, and as the ratio of good days to bad days increases, so does one's quality of life.

Yes. Another way of looking at it is that medication manages and decreases the severity of your symptoms. Making changes that might eliminate the symptoms or triggers for the symptoms is the role of psychotherapy. Between them, the joint goal is to manage or better cope with the illness or condition.
 

prayerbear

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I have felt it is better that I do not mention having a mental illness, especially around religious people as they act like I am lesser or weaker than them. Honestly, is this stigma letting up even a little bit?

miss ex-clean(recovering clean-aholic OCD'r)
 

lallieth

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In my case,I realize that medication alone isn't the whole answer,but it allows my brain and body enough relief from the symptoms to be able to work on the underlying causes.
 

rosedragon

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I have felt it is better that I do not mention having a mental illness, especially around religious people as they act like I am lesser or weaker than them.

Religious people at my country might just accuse the person being possessed by demon or even worst: work for demon. While some at the big city might deny this if they see it, I have seen myself how they deal with people with Schizophrenia. With all those holy water, shakes, screams, punches, slaps.. well I will say LOL.

This might the most difficult part of being a person who unluckily got mental illness. They can't ask help, moreover they even need to hid it. :(
 

healthbound

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I know this is an old post, but I just read it and was reminded of the time my mom arranged to have a priest come to our home and do an excorsism in my room (and the rest of the house). I was having anxiety attacks at bedtime which my mom believed was possession by the devil. We also had crucifixes in every single room and a holy water font at the bottom of the stairs that led to our bedrooms. We were supposed to bless ourselves with the holy water everytime we went upstairs.

I still don't think my mom awknowledges mental illness of any kind within our family. She attributes "it" to eating the wrong foods, or to evil or as normal and justified. It's not just her though. It hasn't been until recently that my dad and stepmom have finally wrapped their heads around depression and anxiety. And my grandparents on both sides can't even discuss it.

I think we have come a long way, but we have a long way to go yet :)
 

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We tend to believe that rites such as exorcism were abandoned a century or more ago. Your story is a reminder that these things still go on, HB.
 

Anti-Citrite

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Religious people at my country might just accuse the person being possessed by demon or even worst: work for demon. While some at the big city might deny this if they see it, I have seen myself how they deal with people with Schizophrenia. With all those holy water, shakes, screams, punches, slaps.. well I will say LOL.

This might the most difficult part of being a person who unluckily got mental illness. They can't ask help, moreover they even need to hid it. :(
I've had excellent support from my church with my illness - but I think it depends on where you go and how "real" the people are you church with - my last church was not so supportive.

My church accepts me for who I am and they know way more of my story than I'm comfortable with. BUT, because they know, they are real with me and often individuals confide in their own issues knowing I'd be the last person to judge them. I think people want to be real - but in some churches, they put so much pressure on "being perfect" and somehow think that is attainable - that they forget that the fact we can't be perfect is exactly why Jesus died for us. We all have crap - it is a matter of how honest you are about your own crap.

If you are a "real deal" follower of Jesus, you know he didn't judge people and wasn't a fan of the religious people of the day. Those people who think the mentally ill are demonized really don't mean any harm - it is how they were brought up...but don't blame Jesus for their ignorance...and know that there are some churches out there that understand. I know of at least one...
 

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Great post, AC. Good reminder that we shouldn't over generalize. Good to hear you have so much support as well.

Welcome to psychlinks!
 

pullus

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Of course we know the illness of depression has nothing to do with occasional sadness, but is profound mood disorder caused by an imbalance in brain chemistry.
How do we know depression is caused by an imbalance in brain chemistry? Is there any proof this is the case? How are levels of neurotransmitters determined...other than post mortem, I mean? If such an imbalance exists, is there any proof it isn't caused by the depression? If there is an imbalance and it isn't caused by the depression, what is it caused by? Is there any literature, disseminated in North America, by any pharmaceutical company, which reads "depression is caused" rather than "depression may be caused"? If it's possible to measure the levels of neurotransmitters, in living humans, why, when a patient presents with symptoms of depression, isn't this done and the appropriate medication prescribed, rather than trying everything and hoping either something works or the episode ends and we can say it did?
 
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David Baxter

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How do we know depression is caused by an imbalance in brain chemistry? Is there any proof this is the case? How are levels of neurotransmitters determined...other than post mortem, I mean? If such an imbalance exists, is there any proof it isn't caused by the depression? If there is an imbalance and it isn't caused by the depression, what is it caused by? Is there any literature, disseminated in North America, by any pharmaceutical company, which reads "depression is caused" rather than "depression may be caused"? If it's possible to measure the levels of neurotransmitters, in living humans, why, when a patient presents with symptoms of depression, isn't this done and the appropriate medication prescribed, rather than trying everything and hoping either something works or the episode ends and we can say it did?

We do not know whether an imbalance or insufficiency in neurotransmitters causes or is the result of depression, etc. We do know that there is a correlation between the two, though. We also know that taking certain medications addresses the imbalance and/or insufficiency and that as a result of taking those medications the majority of depressed individuals experience at least some remission of depressive symptoms. There is still some uncertainty as to exactly how the medications accomplish this, but in the end does this really matter to the patient?

It is not that difficult to measure neurotransmitter levels in living individuals. Why isn't it done routinely in depressed individuals? I would say because it is unnecessary either to diagnose or to treat the depressed patient. Diagnosing depression is not difficult. We know that taking antidepressant medication will help in 99% of cases. We also know that depressed individuals will benefit from psychotherapy to address the origins of the depression. So given that our health systems are already overburdened, why would we want to perform an unnecessary test routinely?
 

songbird

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I have attended some wonderful churches that were like an extended family. Providing support for all members in times of crisis, and celebration. When my brother was terminally ill, the church we were attending provided meals, transportation, childcare, house keeping, prayer, you name it, they helped and gave joyfully. That is how the church is suppose to be. Not all are.

I think a lot of the 'attack' that the Christian faith comes under is from people not being able to separate the actions of man or the church from the Word of God. Every attack I've heard has been something man or the church has done that goes against the word of God.
You are right, Jesus was not at all a fan of the 'pharisees' the religious people of the day. Christianity is not about religion at all, it's about relationship.

This could be due to the type of doctrine some churches are founded on, whether they teach out of law or grace. It's hard to develop a relationship within the confines of religious legalism. We are suppose to be living under the covenant of peace and grace through Christ.

Legalism brings condemnation, separating man from God, which why there is the appearance of so much hypocrisy in some of the churches.

I agree with Anticritite, don't blame Jesus for man's ignorance.
 
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Myth 4 children do not have mental illness

I think now people are seeing more and realize that all ages suffer.

I think if you come from a larger area where there is more treatment available this helps, coming from a little town village there were no supports available no one saw.

I am glad things are changing now slow but they are changing to help the most vulnerable the young in our society
 

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It's rather sad that in this day and age these myths are still considered fact by some. Myth number two, that drugs alone can cure Mental Illness, is one of the most widespread myths I've come across. Just today, a friend was telling me about trying to get her general practitioner to give her anxiety medication to deal with her anxiety. Therapy wasn't mentioned in the equation. There are a great deal of theories to how these drugs work, like re-uptake of neurotransmitters, but nothing can be written in stone yet. I believe that a mixture of having a 'quick fix' focused society and the large amount of money that pharmaceutical companies put into the availability and advertising of medication for mental health disorders aid in feeding this myth.

I've come across Myth Number 3, the ability to snap out of mental illness, in the early stages of my current relationship. My boyfriend would advise me to simply 'snap out' of my Depressive swing in my bipolar cycle. It took some time for me to explain Bipolar to him and how I couldn't simply switch back.
 
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@healthbound

I know what you mean: my mother also did the exorcism thing on my brother. I am not sure if he had anxiety attacks or not. She claimed he 'saw' things at night... But in the dark if you look long enough at something, you might 'see' something, too. My mother used to be in some kind of 'Charismatic Christianity' group, so she might have been taking advice from them. But even though I was the age of around 8 at the time, I thought that was the weirdest thing ever.

To this day, when my mother refuses to deal with something, she will say she's "given [her problem] over to God." I sometimes wonder if she thinks she's actually talking to God, when she's really only hearing herself in her head.
Myth #1: People with mental illness are weak.
As far as my mom is concerned, if you are mentally ill then you are her favourite prey. You don't have to be mentally ill to have medication, either, she just has to think there's something wrong with you and she'll dig out some medicine she's brought home from work. Sometimes she's brought home other people's prescriptions (apparently the previous owner of the meds passed away, so they were going to be thrown out anyway -- don't want to waste perfectly good medication!)

Myth #2: Medication cures mental illness.
My mother also LOVES to use medication and loves to try to make everyone else take it... She is a nurse with some psychiatric training, so of course she 'knows' everything and a lot of the relatives on her side got angry with her for over-drugging her dad for the last five years before he passed away. She got so high and mighty about it that she got in trouble at the hospital where she worked (after she left working at the jail as a nurse) because she handed out medication without proper authority.

Myth #5: People with mental illness don't get well.
My middle brother definitely had or has something not quite right with him. From what I've been reading up on he might even be mildly schizophrenic.... Or on the other hand my mother could so totally have infantilized him that he's just impossibly slobby. He could never do anything for himself, so she made sure she did things for him as she felt he was never right in the head nor mentally capable...

Oh that should be another myth:
Myth #6: People with mental illness are always cognitively impaired (although I suppose that could be under the myth about them being 'weak.')
 

JennyS

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Mental illness unfortunately can be associated with severe biologically based cases.
One cannot say proudly, I am mentally ill, without people getting concerned.
Most people do not think a person may go to a psychologist get some coaching on some behaviors.
I don't thing the stigma will go away until there is name change for "minor therapy" type work.
Already people don't know the different between psychologist and psychiatrist.
 

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One cannot say proudly, I am mentally ill, without people getting concerned

Perhaps in the same way a person would not walk into a room proudly stating, "Hey everybody, I've got cancer!"

Mental illness is an all inclusive word that should be used in its right context, namely when speaking about a family of illnesses or disorders. An example might be, "This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week".

However, if one happens to have been diagnosed with major depression, or generalized anxiety disorder, or schizophrenia, just like in the "cancer" analogy, it should not be expected the person advertise their illness. Illness might be shared with very selected people on a strictly need to know basis, and if it is felt that sharing this information with someone might have negative repercussions, it would be better left unsaid.

As for people being concerned, I feel is a different issue in misunderstanding psychiatric or psychological disorders, because when some people learn of another's illness, through ignorance, they imagine the sick person might act out in some bizarre manner (as seen in the poorly produces movies or or TV shows). Some people might even expect the sick person to suddenly turn into a raging maniac (to use the language of the streets).

So why is there stigma and shame?

I believe it comes from misinformation, distorted information and sometimes lack of information about illnesses of the mind. It was this lack of information that resulted in fear and superstition of often bizarre or unconventional behaviour by sick people that caused society to hide their mentally ill ad eventually warehouse them in isolated asylums in humiliating and inhuman conditions.

I believe the stigma attached to illness of the mind goes deeper in our culture than just lack of understanding, but rather is deeply rooted in the excesses of how our predecessors were treated in the past.

If we are ever going to overcome the stigma, the shame and ultimately the apprehensions of individuals needing help and support, what steps can each of us do in our everyday lives when conversations about mental health come up?
 

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